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Tue, Oct 24, 2006

Two Companies Vie To Protect Airports

Which is Better: Ray Gun Or Laser?

If you hear the expression "shields up", you may not be watching a science fiction movie, where those invisible shields are activated to protect the spaceship. You might be observing the competition between Raytheon and Northrop-Grumman to protect an airport near you from terrorist MANPADS (man-portable-air-defense-missiles), such as the Stinger.

Both companies have won contracts to study the feasibility of protecting airports from the ground, rather than trying to equip each airplane with its own portable device.

Raytheon has a four million dollar contract from the Department of Homeland Security to study and design its Vigilant Eagle Airport Protection System.

The system will aim a focused beam of  electromagnetic energy at the terrorist missile causing it to go blind and off course. If it works, there will be a virtual invisible dome over the airport protecting all arriving and departing aircraft from the threat.

"Raytheon's Vigilant Eagle defeats man-portable missiles in seconds without any alteration to or involvement by the aircraft using the airport," said Mike Booen, vice president of Directed Energy Weapons at Raytheon Missile Systems. 

In the meantime, Northrop Grumman has a $2 million contract to build a laser-based system to do the same thing. Called Skyguard, this program uses high energy lasers to not only shoot down missiles, but Northrop Grumman claims it can also knock down artillery shells and mortars.

"The ability of a high-energy laser to shoot down rockets, artillery and mortars has been demonstrated repeatedly with mature chemical laser technologies" said Alexis Livanos, Space Technology president. "Skyguard will be a revolutionary approach to aviation security because it's based on the only laser system that has shot down a wide variety of airborne threats in flight. Northrop Grumman is the only company that has built a deployable high-energy laser weapon system that has destroyed such targets." 

Vigilant Eagle vs. Skyguard -- ray gun vs. laser -- sounds like Star Trek vs. Star Wars.



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